How I Found Poetry
By Kim Addonizio on 11.18.09
When I was young and living with my parents, my father still alive and my mother also young, though I was too young then to understand how young she really was—when I was a girl and did not yet have a girl myself—when I was a young girl, my lovely living father owned a copy of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. The book had a brown leather cover, its title was gold-stamped, and so it was exotic. My father read to me from that book: The Moving finger writes, and having writ, / Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit / Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line, / Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it. And in his voice that I found beautiful, my young and beautiful father said A loaf of bread a jug of wine and I could nearly taste the bread’s sun-warm crust and didn’t yet know the taste of wine or what it meant to have a beloved. That book, those words, that afternoon when we were all so young: maybe that was the start.
Page from Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Image by infinitooples on Flickr
Several years later I sat reading in a dormer room across the country in San Francisco and was dumbstruck by something that was called poetry—a fragment of Plath, I tell everyone, but I can’t remember what poem it was and I’m not even positive it was Plath, only that some internal tectonic shift made me know I needed this thing, needed the way it changed my experience of life—how it made a space for that experience and enlarged it, too.
That book, whatever it was, has since been lost. Soon after reading it, I would lose my father. The city I grew up in would disappear, every downtown building for several blocks razed and replaced. My mother would sell the house my brothers and I grew up in, and grow old, and I would understand something about this process but still not really understand, and I would struggle to feel the deep joy in the mystery of change and not simply the terror and loss, and poetry would help me with this. I would discover other poets, and find my way to writing some poems of my own.
And once on a visit east I must have found that leather-bound book and brought it back to California, because it sits now on my shelf with the hundreds of other volumes of poetry. On top of the bookcase are photographs of my daughter and my mother. There is a framed broadside of one of my poems, a poem about desire and a red dress, writter after I had tasted the wine, had found and lost the beloved, was struggling still to understand.
The Sufi poet Rumi wrote, In truth, everyone is a shadow of the Beloved. And Thou beside me, my father read, Singing in the wilderness.
Editor’s Note: This short essay is from Red Thread, Gold Thread: The Poet’s Voice an anthology edited by Alan Cohen. It is a book of essays by poets on how they came to poetry and why they practice their art. Funds from the book are going toward the continuation of the annual Power of Poetry Festival held in Logan, Ohio since 2002. You can buy the book here.